About Culling Chickens

Scissor Beak in a baby chick.

If you have ever heard anyone use the term cull, as in culling a flock of chickens, or cull a chick, it means basically to separate the desirable from the undesirable.

In the chicken industry this can mean removing the male chicks. Often they are killed, but some small chick producing companies like MyPetChicken try their best to find homes for these young instead.

To the backyard flock owner, culling can mean removing the hens that no longer are providing eggs, and using them for meat.

As vegetarians that own only female chicks and chickens we were pretty confident that culling was not a term we needed to concern ourselves with.

We were wrong.

Apparently there is a disorder that can occur in young chicks called scissor beak. As the name implies, this often genetically linked disorder causes the top and bottom parts of a chick’s beak to grow in different directions.

It is more common in the breed Easter Eggers, which we recently received a few of. And yes, the one in the middle above developed the crooked beak.

In mild cases, no extra steps need to be taken for the chick. When the deformity is more severe, as it is in this case, special care would be needed to help the chick grow.

She would have to be fed a soft mash as her beak could not handle the harder grit, or we could make a special feeder. She would also need a nipple-type water bottle since her beak would not be able to manage drinking from a base water source.

Add to this that her beak would require periodic trimming, as the natural pecking chickens do keeps their beaks trimmed; but this would not be the case in a bird with scissor beak.

Finally she would likely be shunned by the rest of the flock, pecked at, or at the very least find herself at the bottom of the social order. We have observed the chicks behavior and this is already taking place.

Most of what we have researched about severe scissor beak suggests the most humane thing to do is to cull the chick, meaning to dispatch her with the least amount of suffering.

My heart is heavy with this decision. I can justify it somewhat by knowing that there have been many chickens that have not suffered to provide me with meat; but that only helps a little bit.

I share this with you in case you are thinking about getting chicks. The more you know, the more informed your decision.

Personally, this won’t stop me from choosing this breed again and certainly not from increasing our flock. Now at least I will know beforehand.

October 30, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: Backyard Chickens  6 Comments

Getting Serious About Growing Tomatoes

Choosing the right tomato variety for you.

I mentioned earlier that this past summer was not our best gardening season.

It was in fact the second worst ever, which is saying a lot.

And our tomato harvest was not spared. Between the late spring that never left, and the summer that arrived in September, there is very little fruit to can.

This bothers me because we always try to have two years worth of canned veggies on hand, with tomatoes and related products taking up a large part of the shelf space. I feel kind of empty in the larder.

So next summer it is time to get serious and build up that supply.

As much as we love the heirloom tomatoes, it has been our experience that when the weather is bad or disease is about, they tend to not fare as well as their hybrid counterparts.

Simply put, there are many tomatoes that are bred, not genetically engineered, to be more disease resistant. They are often also bred to be prolific as well as have great flavor.

So next year, along with a few choice heirlooms, you will find a number of hybrid varieties in our garden.

The plan is to grow 80 tomatoes in the 10 raised beds, along with a few in the greenhouse.

We sent for seeds from Johnny’s Select, some of which were on sale.

Here’s what we ordered:

-BHN-589: Not the most interesting name for a tomato, but this variety is highly disease resistant and can be grown in a greenhouse or hoophouse. We plan to try both.

-Chef’s Choice Orange: An All American Select winner for 2013, this orange beefsteak produces sooner than other varieties, and looks gorgeous. This will be one of our fresh eating tomatoes.

-Tiren: A San Marazano type that produces sooner. Just in case.

-Mariana: Good for paste and sauce, high resistance to disease. We plan to grow more of these and Tiren for canning.

-German Johnson: Not a hybrid, but a prolific variety of Brandywine that produces sooner. Sooner is better in the North.

Our San Marzano and Mortgage Lifter plants did the best of all our tomatoes last summer, so they will be back in the garden.

Of course, I will be sure to find room for at least one Sungold for snacking; but other than that this year we mean business.

2016 Tomatoes?

Game on.

October 24, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: All About Seeds, FAQs, Tomatoes, Tomatillos & Ground Cherries  5 Comments

Maintaining a Seed Stash

Saving and storing seeds by Gardening Jones.

So you have decided to build up a supply of seeds. That’s great!

We’ve looked at getting started before, and discussed saving seeds as well. But we have not written about one question we get asked a lot:

How long will seeds last?

More specifically, how long will seeds remain viable with a decent germination rate?

This is a tough question because there are so many variables depending on how the seeds were saved, and the kind of seeds they are.

First, you should try to keep seeds cool. Not necessarily frozen, but at about 50F. A spare room, a basement or a garage are perfect.

They should also be stored in the dark. A simple envelope works well here.

Seeds need to be kept dry. If you live in a humid climate or are storing in an area that gets damp, we would recommend it. You can buy ready made desiccant packets, or simply use rice or dry milk for this purpose.

Still, how long? Probably not this long, but most seeds still have a good germination rate after a few years.

Other than that, it depends on the plant. Parsnips have a very short seed life, yet their cousins carrots can go for a few years.

In the end let your own experience be your guide. To get started though, and playing it on the safe side, here’s how often you should change up what you have on hand:

Leeks and other from the onion family, parsnips.

Every two years
Corn, spinach, okra, peppers.

Every three years
Carrots, peas, broccoli, peas.

Every four years
Beets, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, cabbage, all squash inc. pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant, swiss chard, watermelon.

Every five years
Lettuce, radishes, melons, turnips.

Most seed packets are dated. If you buy any that aren’t just date them yourself. This makes it quite easy to keep your supply fresh.

Many gardeners will tell you that they have had success with seeds much older than what we listed, and it is true. You can test germination rates yourself by simply placing a few seeds between moist paper towels and waiting to see how many sprout. If they are viable, but not all sprout, just sow extra to compensate.

Easy peasy.

October 18, 2015  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: All About Seeds, FAQs  2 Comments

Caring for Baby Chicks

Caring for Baby Chicks

These female chicks arrived yesterday at just three days old. We purchased them from a site recommended by a friend called MyPetChicken.com.

The company has a lot of great info, and if you are thinking of starting a backyard flock I suggest you go there to read up on it first. Their minimum shipment is 7 birds, so if you don’t want that many either purchase locally or get a friend to go in on it with you. A lot of other sites ‘pad’ their shipments with male birds, which you don’t need unless you intend to breed chicks.

We have found that we prefer to get chickens at the infant stage, as we are able to bond with them. Since they are like pets to us, we enjoy being close enough to be able to hold them when we want. Chickens we purchased at older stages didn’t have that kind of familiarity.

Anyway, like all newborns they require care. They must be kept warm, as they would be if they were still with their mothers. They eat and drink a lot, so be prepared with chick food, preferably organic, and change the water often so it remains fresh.

They need about 2 square feet per chick, especially as they grow; which happens quickly. They will be full feathered in about 5-7 weeks. At that time, weather permitting, we will be putting them in a coop designed and built especially for baby chicks.

Young ones cannot be added to an existing flock, as they would likely be killed by the other hens. They need to be big enough to defend themselves first.

We will post more updates on how this takes place. For now, we have a special coop that will be alongside of our regular coop. Each has their own run area, but they will all be able to see each other. Come late winter or early spring, we will begin the process of joining the two flocks by first letting them range together.

After a while, we will close down the baby coop and all the ladies will use the larger structure.

The idea is to minimize the disruption to all the chickens. Hopefully, they will not feel the need to establish a new pecking order. We have seen that take place. It’s not a pretty sight.

If all goes well, we will end up with a few different shades of brown eggs, and blue/green as well. With a total of 13 chickens, some a few years old, we can expect 8-10 eggs per day.

This is enough for us to enjoy what we want, share what we want, and still have eggs to sell to help cover the cost of organic feed.

We see that as a win-win!

Shown in the picture above:
Black & white chicks are Barred Rocks.
Yellow chicks are Buff Orpingtons.
Shades of brown chicks are Easter Eggers.

If you are on Facebook, you can see a short video of them here posted 10/16/15.
Please give our new page a Like and thanks!

October 16, 2015  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: Backyard Chickens  No Comments

What Not to Grow

Autumn in the garden. Every autumn as the main part of the gardening season comes to an end, we start to plan for the changes we intend to make next spring.

This year was not a good growing season for many of our veggies, and the pantry will suffer. Fortunately we try to be prepared for such a situation, but it does mean we will be using our back-up canned goods and not replacing them until next year.

The hardest hit are the tomato products like salsa, veggie juice, and marina. To make up for this loss, we will be doubling our tomato plants to 80 next year, which means some other veggies will have to go.

When we asked our Facebook fans what they would eliminate if they had to, they answered: Cucamelons, eggplant, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, summer squash, green beans, Swiss chard and cauliflower. Interesting, as we were thinking the same thing.

In most cases it was because that particular veggie does not do well in that location, or it was a space consideration. Only the chard was due to an overabundance this season.

To have the space to grow what we need to bump our larder back up, we will be eliminating these veggies in our 2016 garden:

  1. All salad greens except for Swiss chard.
  2. Green beans.
  3. Rutabagas.
  4. Turnips.
  5. Leeks.
  6. Watermelon.
  7. Eggplant.
  8. Sweet potatoes.
  9. Tomatilloes.
  10. Corn.

Sweet peppers and eggplant will be in the greenhouse, and the amounts limited. Likewise there will be a lot less of the cole crops, which are iffy in our gardens anyway.

We will also be either not planting dry beans, or planting less. They had a great year so we may have enough left come spring.

Besides the tomatoes, we’ll be growing more carrots, garlic, winter squash, and onions.

Have you decided on any changes yet?

How was your growing season this year?



October 10, 2015  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Posted in: Gardening, Techniques & Issues  9 Comments

A Positive Attitude – You Can Grow That!

smiles in the garden

“It seems like gardeners are never happy,” my husband commented a number of years ago, “Either it’s too hot or it’s too cold, too much rain or not enough. I thought gardening was supposed to be fun.”

Now I knew he wasn’t talking about gardeners in general, he only knows one.
He meant me.

And it struck me funny because I always thought I was a glass half full kind of person. Something had changed, and I decided right then to change it back.

When I went out to the garden I noticed how serious it looked.
There were no whirligigs, no gnomes, no smiles. So I began to add them.

Okay, I will admit, the gnomes got out of hand.

One thing I did was to make the planter shown above, affectionately known as The Pot Head.

So this year I will not complain about the fact that it was our second worst growing season ever.

Instead, I will enjoy our best pear crop of all time, fry the green tomatoes, and smile when I see the celery transplanted in The Pot Head and brought indoors to continue its growth.

And you know what?
When you do that with gardening, it infuses the rest of your life as well.

You really can grow a better way of living life.

And if you look at it the right way, you’ll see it in every seed packet.

you can grow that

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort from gardeners around the globe to help spread the word about the joys of gardening.

Click on the link above for more posts and Garden On!

October 4, 2015  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: Jonesen', Whimiscal Gardens, You Can Grow That!  2 Comments

Which Pumpkin is Right for You?

halloween pumpkin

Happy October!

A pumpkin is a pumpkin, right?

Well yes, and no.

That is, some pumpkins lend themselves better for decorating, and others for pies. So, which is which?

The best way to tell that is either through your own or a neighbor’s experience. The second best way is by reading the descriptions on seed packets.

And then, some pumpkins tell you straight out through their name.
For example: Jack O’ Lantern, Jack Be Little and Baby Boo are all good pumpkins to grow for decoration.

The first is a typical carving pumpkin shape with a nice thick skin that lends itself well to being carved. The other two are smaller, with the Baby Boo being a cute white pumpkin. Kids just love those.

On the other hand you have names such as Small Sugar and Sugar Pie. Yep, the flesh of these varieties is sweeter than most and perfect for baking.

Of course there is crossover; you can certainly eat the flesh of carving pumpkins. If you want a dual purpose veggie, the Jack O’ Lantern does both jobs well.

And we don’t want to leave out pumpkins grown primarily for their size.

The most common examples of this are the varieties Atlantic Giant and Big Max. Even if you’re not looking to break any records or enter the local fair, you can still get impressive looking pumpkins with these seeds.

Whatever variety you choose, be sure to give them plenty of room, frequent fertilizer, and a lot of water. Pumpkins should be planted after the temperatures are steadily above 70F. and take in the neighborhood of 3-4 months to grow.

All of the seeds mentioned can be found by clicking the links to the left.

Here’s more:
Pumpkins, Squash and Cross Pollination for those saving seeds.
Pumpkin Soup with Snickered Pretzels recipe.

October 3, 2015  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: All About Seeds, Squash  2 Comments

1 – 2 – 3 Homemade Grape Juice

make your own grape juice

If you have the space to grow vertically, grape vines are an attractive and easy to manage plant. Here’s more on that.

But on to the homemade grape juice:

1. Add 1/2 cup clean stemmed grapes per pint or 1 cup per quart to clean, hot canning jars.

2. Simmer a ratio or 1/2-1 cup sugar to 4 cups water for five minutes, add to the jars allowing only 1/4″ head space.

3. Add the 2 piece bands and lids to wiped rims, to be processed for 15 minutes in a hot water bath canner.

That’s it, could it be any easier?

If you let the sealed jars sit for a few weeks or so, you’ll see the color get slightly darker and the juice will have a better flavor.

We use a martini strainer when we open a jar to transfer the juice to another container.

September 29, 2015  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: Canning, How to Store  No Comments

Edible of the Month – Sugar Baby Watermelon

Perfect for small spaces, the Sugar Baby Watermelon.

It seems appropriate to launch a new series with the last of something from the garden.

Our final Sugar Baby Watermelon of the season was harvested a wee bit late, but still oh so sweet. This single fruit was plenty for the two of us, and we could have shared as well.

A small melon comparatively, we like it not only for the flavor but for the compactness that allows for container growing.

If you follow the first link, we talk about that some more.

We did start this early indoors and began getting fruit that much sooner. Anything to push the season makes us happy.

So we’re going to hook you up:

Read more about them here.

Push the season & get them sooner.

Watch a video on when to harvest.

Seed Sources:


Mike the Gardener

Have you ever grown Sugar Babies?

September 27, 2015  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: Edible of the Month  No Comments

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Vegetables

homegrown vegetables

Or fruit, for that matter.

If you are new to growing food, you will find that what you harvest doesn’t necessarily look like what you see at the grocery store.

The reason is simple: Produce that doesn’t meet the standards of appearance that grocery chains look for gets tossed. Yep, wasted; and they were otherwise perfectly good.

There’s something called the 5×6 tomato. That’s simply a fruit that can be packed and shipped in standard boxes for that purpose. Nutrition and taste mean nothing, it’s all about size and trransportation.

Carrots are probably the most likely to vary in appearance from the store norm. The slightest pebble in the soil and these roots will change direction. Often they will grow multiple roots on one stem, or push their tops out of the soil.

It is quite common and there is nothing wrong other than how they look. They are perfectly safe to eat.

Potatoes, like the little monster shown above, will also vary in shape. We’ve seen many a Mr. Potato Head picture posted by other gardeners.

Again, regardless of shape, they are completely safe. The only exception is if a potato pushes out of the soil and turns green, Don’t eat them.

Have you ever seen a tomato with a nose? Yes, these fruit can grow funky as well.

If you harvest oddly shaped food from your garden, take a good picture and have a laugh. Then go ahead and eat it.

Here’s an interesting story on how one French supermarket chain is reducing food waste by selling oddly shaped fruit and veggies.

Wouldn’t it be great to do this here? In the meantime, spread the word on how everyone can grow their own food by sharing our posts.

Thanks and Garden On!

September 26, 2015  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: FAQs, Gardening  No Comments